My classroom in Ghana wasn’t your usual classroom, but each kid enrolled in the class had his or her own chair. There were none left to spare. Of the twenty-something kids in the class, I was the only one who had a companion. He didn’t belong to that class nor was he even enrolled in the school, but he was there anyway, and no one asked him to leave because there was always a seat for him on my chair. At the end of the semester, he took a test, just like every other kid in that class and did extremely well. Eventually, he had his own chair. What if I had asked him not to walk to my school again? What if …?
Providence has a peculiar way of opening our eyes to see the past. And the gift of being able to see the past shouldn’t drive us to acts of revenge for wrongs done. This is because there’s never been any revenge that offered some healing or reconciliation. Those who have the capacity to look back can see the invisible hand of Providence — guiding, prodding, and directing. Providence has always been there!
Looking back offers the opportunity for gratitude and humility because you come to realize that nothing was ever done by yourself alone, but that Providence has always been there as that invisible hand directing your life.
I am very proud of my brother, Andrew Mercer, the brother whom I offered a seat on my chair. In Ghana, he is a member of parliament and a deputy minister of energy. Looking back, I really cannot tell what would have happened to him if my dad — who didn’t even know that my brother had been running away from his nursery school every morning to join me at my school — had asked him to go back to his nursery school, or if I hadn’t offered him a seat on my chair. As a result, my brother became my classmate all through high school.
Our real challenge arose when we lost our father, 10 days before enrolling at Adisadel College in Cape Coast, Ghana. Because we were classmates, each decision regarding our lives had to be made for two and not one. I have a sister who missed more than an academic year of school because of a dispute regarding the execution of my father’s estate. And so I shudder to even contemplate on what would have happened to my brother if we had not been classmates. Was it destiny? What was it? How does Providence make life patterns fit so well? How does Providence ultimately help us find meaning in our individual stories? Pondering over these helps in finding that sense of gratitude that creates a humble disposition toward life itself.
Without ever saying so, we loved each other deeply and looked to the other for solace, strength, and the comfort that none other could ever provide. We disagreed and fought a lot, but that’s what siblings do. Beyond that was the sheer belief in offering a seat on any chair upon which each sat, whether literally or metaphorically, to the other.
I look at our story not as a David and Jonathan kind of story, although it has traces of it, but more as emblematic of the story of Moses and Aaron — where mutual dependence made possible the successful liberation of God’s people from slavery in Egypt. In that story, God calls Moses and charges him with the liberation of the Israelites from slavery. Moses is hesitant about undertaking the task and so floods God with all the possible excuses — one of which was that he wasn’t articulate enough. God responded that his brother Aaron would do the talking on his behalf, and so he did. In spite of the hiccups, their frosty relationship, and disappointments along the way, their mutual dependence on each other was more than enough to accomplish God’s purpose.
My brother and I have come a long way. Life often felt like walking from the bondage of Egypt through the wilderness of scarcity to the Promised Land that flows with milk and honey. Although the journey has been long, the joy for me is the gift of being able to look back with a sense of gratitude and pride — not for being on the Promised Land itself, but for being so close to the land that we each can freely taste the milk and honey that God richly provides.
An unknown author once wrote that “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.” Provide a seat on a chair for the other, for you may never know what destiny has in store.
Emmanuel Mercer is rector at Christ Episcopal Church in Columbia. He can be reached at [email protected].
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